Skip to main content

Full text of "The Cambridge Natural History"

See other formats

454                            THE   ELEPHANT   SEAL                            CHAP.
have long roots. The nose of the male has a dilatable proboscis.
The southern Elephant Seal is Ml leoninus, and reaches a
length of some 20 feet. It occurs on the shores of Elerguelen
and some other more or less remote islands. Its habits have
been studied and described by several observers, beginning with
Alison in the last century. The late Professor Moseley gave a good
account of this marine monster in his book on the voyage of
the " Challenger." When the animal is enraged, the end of the
snout is dilated; but when this happens there is no long and
hanging proboscis such as has sometimes been described. The
inflation aifeets the skin on the top of the snout, which thus rises
rather upwards during inflation. The inflated region, according
to Mr. "Vallentin, quoted by Mr. J. T. Cunningham, is about
1 foot long in an. individual of 17 feet. It has been stated that
this proboscis is a temporary structure, only appearing in the
breeding season; but recent observations have shown that this
statement is inaccurate; it persists all the year round. The
males fight greatly during the breeding season, and produce a
roar which has been compared to the "noise made by a man
when gargling." The females and the young males bellow like a
bull. The males fight of course with their teeth, literally falling
upon one another with their whole weight. Mr. Cunningham
thinks that the use of the proboscis is to protect the nose from
injury; or that it may be merely the result of "emotional
excitement." In any ease the Bladder-nosed Seal, Cystophora, is
undoubtedly protected from injury by the possession of a corre-
sponding hood. The nose is the most vulnerable place, and the
existence of this hood would stave off the effects of a blow in
that region. Moseley, however, has said of Mdcrorhinus that it
cannot be stunned by blows on the nose as other Seals can; but
he attributes this, not to the dilated snout, but to the bony
crest on the skull, and to the strength of the bones about the
nose. This Seal crawls with difficulty on the land, and as the
animals move " the vast body trembles like a great bag of jelly,
owing to the mass of blubber by which the whole animal is
invested, and which is as thick as it is in a whale/'1 When
lying on the shore, these animals scrape sand and throw it
over themselves, apparently to prevent themselves from being
1 Cunningham, "Sexual Dimorphism in the Animal Kingdom," London, 1900 ;
jSee also Mower, TVoc. 2ool. #<*e. 1881, p. 145.